Guitar lesson for
Pancho and Lefty
Another song I very recently fell deeply in love with for the first time. I first came across the Willie & Merle version (which I enjoyed), and then discovered Townes Van Zandt (who wrote this song) – who I embarrassingly didn’t even know existed. I began devouring his music, and this song in particular. Aside from his finger style work, I wouldn’t describe his guitar arrangements as flashy or readily distinct as Willie’s – which really allows for his lyrics to shine through in an unreal way. It was hearing his version of the song that really let the raw emotion and sentiment creep in. I couldn’t get enough, and of course being in love with Willie’s guitar style right now – went to him and Merle’s version so I could finally learn that very cool intro riff. One day I’ll learn the solo, and do a lesson for it! But it will probably be a bit down the road. In the meantime, enjoy.
E ––––2–––3–––0–––2–––– B ––––3–––0–––2–––3–––– G ––––2–––0–––2–––4–––– D ––––0–––0–––2–––4–––– A ––––––––2–––0–––2–––– E ––––––––3–––––––––––– D G A Bm
Chord progression cheat sheet
| D . . . | D . . . | A . . . | A . . . | | G . . . | G . . . | D . . . | A . . . |
| G . . . | G . . . | D . . . | G . . . | | Bm . . . | G D A . . . | A . . . | | G . . . | Bm . . . | Bm . . . |
Lyrics w/ chords
D A ...Living on the road my friend... was gonna keep you free and clean G D A ...And now you wear your skin like iron... and your breath as hard as kerosene G D G ...You weren't your mama's only boy, but her favorite one it seemed Bm G D A G Bm ...She began to cry when you said---- goodbye... and sank into your dreams D A ...Pancho was a bandit boys... his horse was fast as polished steel G D A ...He wore his gun outside his pants... for all the honest world to feel G D G ...Pancho met his match you know, on the deserts down in Mexico Bm G D A G Bm ...Nobody heard his dying words.... oh, but that's the way it goes G D G ...All the Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm G D A G Bm ...They only let him slip a--way, out of kindness I suppose D A ...Lefty, he can't sing the blues... all night long like he used to G D A ...The dust that Pancho bit down south... ended up in Lefty's mouth G D G ...The day they laid poor Pancho low... Lefty split for Ohio Bm G D A G Bm ...Where he got the bread to go..... there ain't nobody knows G D G ...All the Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm G D A G Bm ...We only let him slip a--way, out of kindness I suppose (solo over chorus chords...) D A ...The poets tell how Pancho fell... and Lefty's living in cheap hotels G D A ...The desert's quiet, Cleveland's cold... and so the story ends we're told G D G ...Pancho needs your prayers, it's true... but save a few for Lefty too Bm G D A G Bm ...He only did what he had to do...... and now he's growing old G D G ...All the Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm G D A G Bm ...They only let him slip a--way, out of kindness I suppose G D G ...A few grey Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm G D A G Bm ...They only let him slip a--way, out of kindness I suppose
How Merle actually plays it
Not only is this the way Merle plays it, but it’s also how I recommend learning it. This isn’t trivially easy to play, but it’s easier than the version further below AND it provides a consistent sound when played, which is a good thing. The great part about this approach is you’re 100% on the highest 3 strings. True, you can let the D string ring on some / any / all of these chords (and it sounds great!) – but because that D string is always left open (not fretted), it doesn’t require any add’l left hand work to do this.
E ––10––––9–––7–––9–––7–––5–5–––––––5–––––3–––2–––3–––2–––0–2–––––––– B ––10––––10––8–––10––8–––5–7–––––––7–––––3–––3–––3–––3–––3–3–––––––– G ––11––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–7–––––––7–––––4–––2–––4–––2–––2–2–––––––– D ––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
First way I learned it
At first, I was convinced this was it – and for sure, if you wanted to you could play it this way and be 100% fine. The downside of this version is about practicality – in that, you’re on the highest 3 strings for the first half, and then the 4th / 3rd / 2nd strings for the second half. One reason this is bad has to do with picking accuracy –– it’s quite a bit harder to cleanly strum the 2nd/3rd/4th strings (only) in a way that matches the sound of the 1st half, where you’re on the highest 3 strings. If you’re curious, feel free to practice it this way! I enjoyed getting this under my belt. But again, after doing some digging and watching a video of Merle Haggard playing it –– I’m won over by the practicality of his version.
E ––10––––9–––7–––9–––7–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– B ––10––––10––8–––10––8–––8–10––––––10––––8–––7–––8–––7–––5–7–––––––– G ––11––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–11––––––11––––7–––7–––7–––7–––6–7–––––––– D ––––––––––––––––––––––––9–12––––––12––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–7–––––––– A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
Coming, one day, eventually :)
Let me know if you have questions. I hope this was helpful.
Enjoy my lessons? Buy me a beer!
If this and my other lessons have proven helpful to you, please consider making a one-time donation to my tip jar. Contributions of any amount help make this project possible (including the many, many hours I put into it).
You can also support me on Patreon. For only $3/month you'll get access to a print-friendly PDF of my notes for each lesson.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel
Be sure to never miss a lesson by subscribing on YouTube. I put out 2-3 new videos every week. These include full song lessons, as well as covers, practice tips, behind-the-scenes updates. Thanks!
Recent video lessons:
- "Sultans of Swing" chorus lick (Warm Up #3)
Sept 19, 2018
- Learning how to Travis Pick with "Clay Pigeons"
Sept 13, 2018
- Lady May by Tyler Childers
Sept 7, 2018
- Easy E Fingerpicking (Warm Up #2)
Sept 3, 2018
- I've Been Everywhere by Johnny Cash
Aug 29, 2018
- Norwegian Wood by The Beatles
August 14, 2018
- Double Drop D & "The Chain" Intro
August 7, 2018
- Pinky stretch tips for D-major
August 4, 2018
- Q&A: How to sing and strum at same time?
August 2, 2018
- Lola by The Kinks
July 31, 2018
- My original binder of song notes
July 28, 2018
- Simple blues riff in Drop-D
July 25, 2018
- Playing around in Drop-D
July 20, 2018
- Rocky Mountain High by John Denver
July 17, 2018
- When the Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash
June 25, 2018
- We Are the Champions by Queen
June 16, 2018
- My My, Hey Hey by Neil Young
June 9, 2018
- Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N' Roses
June 3, 2018
Monthly email updates
If you want to keep posted of new lessons over email, sign up for my newsletter. I'll email once a month with a digest of all my new videos. I promise: no spam.